Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Urge to Purge

A few times a year, I get the energy to work methodically through my belongings and see what is expendable.  It's not that I'm bogged down by a lot of stuff - my life fits cleanly in a 12x10 room, save a few pieces of large furniture - it's just that I still think I have too much.  Well, it's hit me again and given the time of year, I imagine I'm not alone.

But the tough questions remain: how do you know what to get rid of and what to keep?

It's easy when there's not a lot of emotion involved.  Some things are just things, and they are either keepers or they are not.  I, however, am a person of story (just as you are, though me to a fantastic extreme) and can remember the details of nearly every item I have in storage.  Who gave it to me.  When.  Why.  What it meant to me at the time.  The adventures I had with it.

For instance - I still have the bouncy, lopsided ball I collected Rice Krispies cereal box tops for in elementary school.  I remember collecting those boxtops.  I remember the agonizing wait for the mailman to finally deliver it.  I remember bouncing it around the kitchen and chasing it because it never bounced straight.  That's how it was made.

So when you remember the story of everything, there have to be some guidelines in getting rid of things.  Here's what I've come up with:

First, I've set aside a limited number of boxes (in my case, for right now, it is 3) of things you want to share with your own children someday.  Or grandchildren.  Or future generation, whatever that might look like for you.  I have a box of books that I loved - R.L. Stine and Matt Christopher, mostly - and a smattering of toys that I want my children to one day experience.  They don't make things like they used to and it seems everything changes.  I believe it is important to share a part of your growing up with those whom you are entrusted to grow.

Second, I have to take in the experience.  I let each piece speak its measure of story to me, and then I go from there.  It's not right to pick something out of a box, decide it is not useful, and toss it.  Some things are not useful.  Some things are not even pretty.  Some things are downright tacky and God-awful.  But if there is good story to it, something that strengthens or inspires or encourages me, then it is worth keeping.  At least until the next purge.

Third, I don't allow a previous purge to influence the current one.  That is, I remember why I tucked that thing back in the box last time, but that doesn't mean the same circumstances hold true today.  Every purge is a fresh remembrance and a fresh evaluation of an item's place in my life.

Fourth, I make a concerted effort to disengage things from stories and to a certain extent, disengage things from people.  There are many things we keep because once upon a time, they met an emotional need in our lives.  If we consider parting with such things, we face again the same emotional need and we have to decide what to do with it.  Do I keep that teddy bear because I remember feeling snuggly?  Or am I ready to move on into a more confident sense of safety in something maybe less tangible?  I may still keep the teddy bear anyway if it's cute or for some other reason, but I refuse to allow items to continue to meet emotional needs when I have a God who is greater than that, an Author who is writing a better story.

Fifth, and perhaps most importantly, I am not afraid to "betray" story.  This is maybe the toughest.  These are the things that I keep running across that seem to define a period of my life, a portion of my journey.  Reminders of things I've been through, my growing process, my healing process, my seeking process.  Things that at the time, seemed so large and inescapable and maybe for years dictated everything I did.  I'm not afraid to get rid of many of those things.  On one condition:

If that's not the story I'm telling now.

Here's the thing.  I'm not one to ever run away from my story.  It's always going to be with me.  It is always going to paint, at least in part, how I am who I am, how I got here, and how I'm getting where I'm going.  I get that, and I am both honored and humbled by my story (and the God who is writing it).  But I'm also the kind of person who has lived my story out loud, and as such, I have an enormous excess of emotion-ladened, journey-tinted stuff that is hard to let go of.  Diaries.  Journals.  Records.  Reminders.  This thing that went to that place with me.  That thing that went to another place with me.  

And it's hard to let go because to do so feels like betrayal.  For the abused woman, does she let go of her old journals, her encouraging notes, her detailed reminders of what life was like back then?  For the cancer survivor, is it ok to get rid of that hat you wore to chemo every week or the hospital bracelet from your surgery or your before and after scans?  For the broken marriage, can you expel those sentimental trinkets from the attic...and from your heart?

We all have these big stories in our lives.  They seemed so huge and they really defined everything.  For the longest time, maybe as long as we can remember, they were our story.  That was it.  It just seems callous, or escapist, or betraying to part ways with this very powerful memorabilia.

Maybe it was your story, but the question you have to ask today is: is it still?  Is this still the story I want to tell?  Is this a story I would never tell again if you paid me?  Has my story changed?  Is this still it or have I moved on from that place?

If you can't get rid of it, then you haven't moved on from that place and that is an invitation to reassess your story.  

There are a lot of things I still have because once upon a time, they were.  It's still agonizing to think about parting with them because I know the story.  But it's getting easier, and that's just not my story any more.  It doesn't mean it's a part of my story, but it's not the story in my life.  In fact, it goes beyond that: it's not a story I would ever need to prove to anyone, so I don't need the details hanging around, and quite often, I'm finding that it's not even the story I would tell about that story if I were to tell it today.

Does that make sense?

As God works and shifts and moves through my life, my stories are changing.  Not the things that were, but how they are.  So when I'm purging through my memories, I don't worry about betraying my old story or any portion of it.  The real concern is whether I will betray today's story for the sake of holding onto yesterday's.

It's not worth it.  Not to me, anyway.  So that's how I decide.

And you know what?  When all is said and done and the pain of separation, the emotional exhaustion of surrender, the energy of embracing a new story wears off....I never really find that I miss it.

Then it's simply this: I keep what I like.  I keep what's useful.  I keep what makes its way into today's story.  I ditch the rest.

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